Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, Bill Gates, Bono Discuss International AIDS Fight at World Economic Forum
Microsoft Chair Bill Gates, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and Bono, the lead singer of the rock group U2, discussed AIDS, poverty and debt relief this weekend at the World Economic Forum meeting in New York City, the Washington Post reports. Gates said he and his wife will make a new donation of $50 million to help fight the spread of HIV in Africa and called on the U.S. government and lawmakers in other wealthy nations to "dramatically increase the amount of money spent on public health" (White, Washington Post, 2/3). "If the United States doesn't do it, it's not going to happen, because the United States is the laggard," Gates said (Clendenning, Associated Press, 2/2). Meanwhile, Bono, who "has of late become a debt relief activist," criticized the disparity between wealthy and developing nations, particularly in the area of access to pharmaceuticals, Dow Jones News reports. "It took three cases of anthrax for the intellectual property debate to get in Congress, and people were ready to turn [the patent on the antibiotic Cipro] over," he said, adding that the Cipro debate can help people visualize the situation of those in Africa who cannot afford AIDS drugs (Remond, Dow Jones News, 2/2). On Thursday, Bono called on conference attendees to "prove that they really believed in racial equality by helping to prevent an 'AIDS Holocaust'" in Africa, adding, "History will record this moment in time as the time of the Internet and the war on terrorism. But it will also record how we deal with Africa and AIDS and how a whole continent burst into flames while we stood around with watering cans" (Agence France-Presse, 2/1). Gates, however, did not agree that drug patents are the main obstacle to fighting AIDS in Africa, adding, "There is more than drug pricing to this equation" (Dow Jones News, 2/2).
Although Gates and Bono urged the United States and other wealthy nations to increase funding to fight AIDS in developing nations, O'Neill "ma[de] clear that he remains opposed to appeals for a major increase in aid" to developing nations, the Los Angeles Times reports. Developing nations have received "trillions of dollars in aid over the years with precious little to show for it," he said (Orme, Los Angeles Times, 2/3). "Is there anybody here who believes we should be making a loan to a country to give polio vaccinations or HIV drugs? Is that a loan? I don't think so," O'Neill said (Washington Post, 2/3). Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), speaking from the audience, "challenged" O'Neill's statements, saying that less than 1% of the U.S. federal budget is allotted to foreign aid and most of the foreign assistance goes to Israel, Egypt and the "failed war" on drugs. Bono said that O'Neill's position "accurately reflects a certain distrust in the United States about foreign aid," adding that he plans to accompany O'Neill on a trip to Africa in a month and a half (Los Angeles Times, 2/3). Twenty-five million of the 36 million people estimated to have HIV reside in Africa (Agence France-Presse, 2/1).